Guys, at least put a waterfall or something on your title screen. Zelda's going to eat you alive.[“Might Have Been” is a bi-weekly column by Todd Ciolek that explores the ways in which promising games, characters, and concepts failed. This week’s edition looks at Vic Tokai's Chester Field, released for the Famicom in 1987 and the Commodore 64 in 1989.]

Nintendo would never have another year quite like 1987. The NES had just broken through the anti-videogame bias that lingered in the American public after that Great Atari Crash of ’83, and the Sega Master System provided only token resistance in the console market. Nintendo would become an even bigger cultural icon in the years to come, but 1987 saw the NES truly realizing its potential, and a limited software library meant that any game more promising than, say, Chubby Cherub had a shot at becoming a cult favorite.

Chester Field never had that shot, but it came close. An action-RPG released for the Famicom that June, it was among Vic Tokai’s first console games, and it was set to lead the company’s first wave of NES titles in the U.S, even landing ad space in those Fun Club Newsletters that predated the marketing wonder of Nintendo Power. Yet Vic Tokai inexplicably backed off later that year, and their localized Chester Field vanished from release schedules just when it would have mattered most.

Chester Field Episode II: Attack of the Furries.Fantasy Island

Chester Field’s title screen gives way to an introduction surprisingly elaborate for an early NES game: when the king of Guldred is murdered by General Guemon, a loyal knight named Gazem flees for the island of Chester Field with the deposed queen and her daughter Karen. Along the way, Guemon’s forces attack their ship, kill the queen, abduct Karen, and leave Gazem to die. The fatally wounded knight washes up on the shores of Chester Field and lives just long enough to sum up the plot for a young man named Kein. Our hero immediately sets out to rescue the princess, because there’s not much else to do on an island with only a few dozen people.

At least Chester Field’s scarce residents are all shopkeepers, village elders, and other fairly useful villagers. In each of the game’s eight levels, they offer numerous weapon upgrades and items, and the game progresses surprisingly fast; Kein can pick up a mace, the game’s other major weapon, on the first level. And though the story’s a routine save-the-princess yarn, there’s a twist or two, such as when the game’s second-to-last boss is apparently revealed to be that very princess.

Chester Field’s origins are also curious. The game’s story is introduced as “Episode II,” but there’s no record of a previous chapter in Vic Tokai’s catalog, and though its advertising sports the manga-style art common to most Japanese RPGs of its day, it doesn’t seem to be tied to any novel, comic, or other license. Perhaps it’s just trying to be like Star Wars. Or Xenogears.

Well, I'm just exploring this dungeon and HOLY SHIT A SNAKE THAT I DIDN'T EVEN SEE THANK YOU BAD PALETTE DESIGN.Better than Kid Icarus, anyway

Beyond its basic plot and marginal curiosities, Chester Field is a side-scrolling action-RPG through and through. Kein’s moves start out no flashier than an upward stab, but the items he’ll gather let him fire projectiles from his sword, jump higher and use three different types of spell. And if Kein’s sometimes awkward to control, he’s also rather quick for an early NES hero.

Of course, the game’s over two decades old and looks it. The monster designs and scenery are dated by simple graphics, and the enemies often blend in with the backgrounds. This is first-generation NES stuff, and the visuals wouldn’t have impressed even back in 1987, aside from some animated character portraits.

Chester Field is, however, rather complex for a mid-‘80s RPG. Each of the eight stages includes both a straightforward overworld section and a labyrinth, along with several bosses and hidden items in each level. There’s even a relatively simple password system to keep track of power-ups.

OH GOD THEY'RE IN MY MOUTH.Poor programming becomes gameplay

Not that Chester Field is easy. Or fair. Its enemies and level designs are unforgiving, and the game almost seems to delight in misleading you. Case in point: the first thing Kein sees on the opening level is a beached shipwreck, but any players who venture inside will find Kein ill-equipped to handle it. Instead, he’s meant to hack through other areas of the first stage, level up, and then head inside the ship. An even bigger challenge in Chester Field lies in finding all of the bosses and earning special items, one of which is essential to finishing the game.

Yet things are made easier in ways the designers never intended. Even decent first-generation NES games had disguised glitches, but they crop up so often in Chester Field that even pausing the game messes things up slightly. Un-pause it, and you’ll find that all power-ups and enemy projectiles have disappeared from the screen. If you crouch and hit pause, Kein will actually fall through the floor in the sections of some mazes, thus making them a lot easier.

Madam, I am OFFENDED at your proposition as I am a hero of good moral character and also six Metal short.'80s childhoods that never were

Yes, Chester Field is a buggy, bizarrely difficulty little game, but it’s strangely compelling in its primitive way. There’s a scrappy feel to the quest's progression, and a catchy beat in the soundtrack, even if it loses its majestic appeal after a few stages of repetition. This would’ve been a solid diversion, a good chaser just after you’d finished The Legend of Zelda and before better games came along.

Better games did, of course. By the end of the decade, Chester Field had been trounced in every way by similar action-RPGs, including Faxanadu, Battle of Olympus, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and SNK’s still-amazing Crystalis. Vic Tokai, after balking at releasing the NES game for unknown reasons, ported a translated version to the Commodore 64 in 1989. No one cared, and Vic Tokai went on to make other games and cancel a few of them, including Lost Mission and the enjoyable Secret Ties. Vic Tokai is a strange study.

And Chester Field is a sad one. Though its time may have passed twenty years ago, at least it had a time, unlike large clumps of the thousand-odd games in the NES library, and it’s unfortunate that Vic Tokai’s humble epic couldn’t charm impressionable kids to the point where their adult versions would defend it on message boards decades later. Chester Field may not deserve more than a short, retroactively nostalgic glance today, but it deserved a fighting chance all those years ago.

[Todd Ciolek is a magazine editor in New York City and will be disappointed if no one protests his remark about Kid Icarus.]